It doesn’t matter if you’ve spoken English for three months or three decades—there’s a chance you’re making some grammar mistakes in your everyday speech. It’s nothing to be ashamed of—we all make tiny mistakes in our speech every so often. But it’s up to us to be aware of these mistakes, and to correct ourselves when we make them. That’s just part of getting better and speaking English, whether it’s your second language or your only language.
In this blog, the American accent training professionals at Pronunciation Workshop will cover some of the most common mistakes made in the English language. Take note of these common slip-ups so you can improve your English language skills!
This is perhaps the most common grammatical mistake in the English language, and for good reason—it can be difficult to understand what the subject is in the subject/verb agreement equation. Let’s take a look at an incorrect subject/verb agreement in a sentence (a subject/verb disagreement, if you will):
INCORRECT: One of the tacos are cold.
What’s wrong here? Ultimately, you haven’t identified the subject of your sentence, so your verb (are) doesn’t match the quantity of that subject. In this sentence, it is assumed that “tacos” is the subject. But in fact, only one of the tacos—a single taco—is the subject. When you have a singular subject in your sentence, you need a singular verb to match.
CORRECT: One of the tacos is cold.
That sounds better. The other tacos could be piping hot, but that one taco is cold, isn’t it? If all of the tacos were cold, then you could say “all of the tacos are cold”—a pluralized subject with a pluralized verb. While this is a grammatically correct statement, we wouldn’t wish cold tacos on our worst enemy.
This grammar mistake trips up even the most experienced grammar enthusiasts, but the rules here are simple: if you can count an object, use fewer. If you can’t count an object (like mud or peanut butter) use less. More often than not, English speakers use less when should be using fewer. Let’s take a look:
INCORRECT: There were less people at the football game than I expected.
Since you could could theoretically count the people in a crowd, the word less is incorrect here.
CORRECT: There were fewer people at the football game than I expected.
Now let’s take a look at an example where less is the correct term to use:
INCORRECT: That’s fewer water than the flood we saw back in 1988.
Doesn’t sound right at all, does it?
CORRECT: That’s less water than the flood we saw back in 1988.
Not sure when to use that and when to use who? You’re not alone. While most people use these two words interchangeably without any grammar nerds calling them out, there’s a distinct difference between the usage of these words, and it all depends on whether you’re referring to a person or a thing. Let’s break it down:
INCORRECT: I consider my ex girlfriend, Stacy, as “the one that got away.”
Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Unfortunately, the word that should be in reference to a thing, and Stacy is a person, not a thing.
CORRECT: I consider my ex girlfriend, Stacy, as “the one who got away.”
Who? Stacy, that’s who. Whenever you’re referencing a human being in this way, use who instead of that. Let’s look at it from the opposite angle:
INCORRECT: The team who lost the quarterfinal match will move to the losers’ bracket.
While a team is technically made of humans, you’re referring to the team as a unit in this sentence, giving no recognition to one team member over another.
CORRECT: The team that lost the quarterfinal match will move to the losers’ bracket.
That’s it for Part 1 of our series on common English language grammar mistakes. Stay tuned for Part 2, and check out our other blog posts in the meantime!